Why hotel guests always know best

Web comments have a huge influence over major chains – and give smaller players a helping hand

The lobby of the Mercer Hotel in Barcelona.
The lobby of the Mercer Hotel in Barcelona.Massimiliano Minocri

Francesc Holgado, the director of the Mercer Hotel in Barcelona, never imagined that the hotel’s page on TripAdvisor, the most influential travel website in the world, would receive more than 60,000 visits a month. But according to the site, the independently run hotel is the best in the city. “To be among the top-ranked hotels gives us a visibility we could never have hoped for otherwise, particularly in the international market. We’re a luxury hotel, but with only 28 rooms,” he says proudly. Holding on to that precious top spot is hard work, Holgado admits, and he is constantly answering comments on the site and applying any changes or suggestions he deems necessary: “It’s more demanding than ever.”

TripAdvisor has become something of an obsession for many hotel managers. The page gathers guests’ comments from all over the world and ranks establishments accordingly, which in turn affects a hotel’s reputation. “Somebody looking for accommodation reads between 12 and 15 comments on a hotel before deciding whether to make a booking,” says Blanca Zayas, TripAdvisor’s spokeswoman in Spain. The website receives around 100 comments a minute, and last year published more than 50 million evaluations on establishments in every corner of the globe. “Hotels cannot ignore customers’ opinions on the internet any more than the receptionist can turn their back on a guest who makes a complaint,” says Zayas.

Hotels cannot ignore internet opinions any more than the receptionist can turn their back on a guest who makes a complaint”

Among the large hotel chains that pays most attention to what guests think about it on the social networks is NH; 15 percent of its employees’ pay depends on the evaluation the hotel they work in receives. Javier Carazo, the group’s quality director, uses a tool called Quality Focus On Line that manages the comments that guests make about their stays in NH’s 400 hotels around the world, and above all, the thousands of comments made on TripAdvisor.

More than 5,000 NH staff check these comments each month, and have access to 350,000 customers’ opinions. “The aim is for each hotel to have the information it needs to know which aspects need improving,” says Carazo. He adds that each hotel can compare its performance to three others in the same area. With the data, it provides a league of the best and worse NH hotels. “Nobody likes to be bottom of the list, so it generates some healthy competition within the group,” says Carazo.

The Meliá hotel group works along similar lines. Five percent of its hotel managers’ salaries depend on their hotel’s online reputation, with another five percent linked to the chain’s own customer satisfaction survey.

To be among the top-ranked hotels gives us a visibility we could never have hoped for otherwise”

Another online survey is the one carried out by Barcelona-based Review Pro, which works with major chains such as Meliá. Set up five years ago, it provides the means to analyze the comments made across a wide range of websites and social networks. It now turns over around €7 million, and employs 70 people.

CEO R. J. Friedlander says the company has more than 10,000 customers in 90 countries, counting 19 of the top 25 hotel chains among them. “The location of a hotel is a big factor when it comes to reservations and prices,” he says. If comments are positive, the hotel can charge more than its competitors. Review Pro charges each hotel between €19 and €99 a month, depending on the level of analysis, to keep it informed about what people are saying on the internet about it. Can a hotel that has hit rock bottom in terms of reviews turn things round? “That depends. We give them the information to correct their defects. But doing something about it requires a serious effort and a willingness to meet the expectations of their guests,” says Friedlander.

How to handle blackmailing guests

Do customers now have too much say about their stay? “There are a few cases of over-demanding guests,” says Javier Carazo of the NH chain. He says guests will sometimes threaten to complain on TripAdvisor if their demand to be upgraded to a better room free of charge is not met, or if they are not given free WiFi. “In these kinds of cases we have to be aware, and not to give in to a specific threat, and report it on websites such as TripAdvisor.”

TripAdvisor is aware of the power it wields, and says it works hard to uncover fraud. “We have filters that analyze different aspects of comments, such as the IP address from which the comment was sent and suspicious keywords,” says spokeswoman Blanca Zayas. If a comment looks suspect, somebody from a special team of around 200 people checks it. “The person who heads that team used to be an FBI agent: we take this seriously,” says Zayas. She adds that the website also listens to what hotels say: “Hotel managers can see what is being written about them and if they see something strange, they will contact us.”

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